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Tucson Weekly Euro-Dizzy

Between The Tour De France And The British Open Lies A Vast Cultural Emptiness.

By Tom Danehy

JULY 27, 1998:  WE'RE LOSING IT! And no one seems to care. Do you realize that ever since shortly after Michael Jordan pushed Bryon Russell out of the way so His Airness could have a wide-open shot, the focus of sports fans everywhere has been on other parts of the world? Do you know what that means? Me neither, but it can't be good.

First of all we had that pathetic soccer show. Who directed that mess? You play for 17 weeks or so and then for the finals you end up with the defending champs against the home team. Big wow. Who couldn't see that coming?

Next time it might be more interesting, since Korea and Japan will be co-hosting. Which one will FIFA allow into the finals? And will there even be a Korea in 2002? For that matter, will there be a Japan?

But that's fine. They had a good time. Not a whole lot of people died, Iran got a chance to celebrate something other than Khomeini falling out of the box, and the multi-ethnic French team got to shut up the moronic French right-wingers who are trying to grab political power behind a white supremacist front.

Overlapping the World Cup this year is the next big thing in France, the Tour De France. This is another sport that Americans just don't get by the tens of millions. And while it's not something I personally would want to do (or see, for that matter), I feel it's my sacred duty as sort-of-a-sportswriter to explain it to you.

The Tour De France is a real long bicycle race. And so much less. It's actually a bunch of smaller bike races that somehow don't seem to add up to the whole.

Here's how it works: A bunch of guys, all wearing Tchaikovsky pants (nutcrackers), shoes with one big cleat in them, and silly hats, ride bicycles from one French city to another. The typical leg lasts several hours and involves riding 127 miles through the French Alps, and then, when they get to the end, there's a 93-way tie for first place.

Then the French judge who's the least drunk gets to decide which one of the 93 "won" that leg. For leading after that part of the race, the guy gets to wear this really cheesy yellow jersey during the next leg. Seeing as how the average world-class cyclist looks like Kate Moss's anorexic brother, wearing that yellow jersey puts enough drag on the guy to almost ensure that he won't win the next leg. That way somebody else gets a chance. Plus, they never wash the thing, and you know how meticulous the French are about hygiene.

This year they started the Tour De France in Ireland. They figured that with the World Cup going on back in Gaul, they needed someplace peaceful and quiet to start their race. Ireland may not be the first choice to leap to mind, but it makes perfect sense.

See, in Ireland, the Catholics and Protestants fight all the time. But the French are neither. All they worship is cheese and bad Jerry Lewis movies, if you'll pardon the redundancy. They're like the Swiss in the face of Hitler: non-threatening. Heck, the French kicked the Huguenots out 300 years ago, and the Catholics deserted Avignon in 1377.

(Actually, it was a fascinating period. In what is generally referred to as the Babylonian captivity of the papacy, Avignon served as the seat of the papal court. Then from 1378 to 1408, it served as home to the antipopes. Don't ask. Still, this makes Avignon back then way more interesting than the bike races are today.)

So, they ride to the next city, pry their skinny butts off the seats, and then have their way with the local wenches. The next morning they have a breakfast of two grapes, some amphetamines and Perrier, and it's on to the next city.

They do this for most of the summer, I think. France comes to a halt, which is like living proof of Newton's Law about a body at rest tends to stay at rest. France has been moribund since its army went on strike when a German threw a rock at them in 1939. The army guys are now running all of the public transit.

All the French people go outside and stand by the roadway. If they're lucky, they feel the breeze as the riders whiz by at 135 kilometers per hour. If they're really lucky and they see the riders coming, they get to throw liquid at them.

Why this hasn't caught on in the United States is a real mystery to me.

Each leg is called a "stage." No one knows why. Theoretically, someone can win a bunch of the stages and not win the overall race. Or they can win the race without winning any of the stages. It's French mathematics. It's the same way you can add up No. 1 in cooking, No. 1 in tourism, and No. 1 in fashion and still get a Third World country.

LAST WEEK THEY had another biggie, one of my personal favorites: The British Open golf tournament was held in Southport, England. It's not as much fun as when they have it in Scotland, but it's still interesting.

See, in Scotland, where golf was invented (using William Wallace's head, if I remember the end of Braveheart), they don't shape the landscape to match Jack Nicklaus' dream. They play it as it lays, so to speak.

I love it when they play on Troon or St. Andrews. The terrain looks like Omaha Beach on D-Day. Rolling hills, big holes in the ground for no good reason, and sand, sand everywhere. It's like ghetto golf.

It's fun watching the Americans try to play these courses. No manicured greens, no fairways stretching flat and clear as far as the eye can see. And no 20-under-par scores. They have to battle the course as well as the other golfers.

The Masters may have tradition and the U.S. Open might be more colorful, but the British Open is full-contact. It's like the Women's U.S. Open a couple weeks back where the winner was six over par. They need more tournaments like the British Open, so we can all feel connected.

Well, as much as we can to a country where vinegar is considered a spice.

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